He put his nose against the screen and saw Uncle Billy sleeping in a chair next to an electric fan, his cane between his legs. Father Tim hated to wake him, but what was he to do? He knocked again.
Uncle Billy opened his eyes and looked around the kitchen, startled.
"It's me, Uncle Billy!"
"Lord if hit ain't th' preacher!" The old man grinned toward the door, his gold tooth gleaming. "Rose!" he shouted. "Hit's th' preacher!"
"He's not supposed to be here 'til tomorrow!" Miss Rose bellowed from the worn armchair by the refrigerator.
Uncle Billy grabbed his cane and slowly pulled himself to a standing position. "If I set too long, m' knees lock up, don't you know. But I'm a-comin'."
"Tell him he's a day early!" commanded Miss Rose.
"Don't you mind Rose a bit. You're welcome any time of th' day or night." Uncle Billy opened the screen and he stepped into the kitchen. The Watsons had cooked cabbage for lunch, no two ways about it.
"Uncle Billy, I hear you're giving ... well, someone said you're giving Cynthia and me ... a party?"
The old man looked vastly pleased. "Got a whole flock of people comin' to see you! Got three new jokes t' tell, you're goin' t' like 'em, and Rose is makin' banana puddin'."
Father Tim scratched his head, feeling foolish.
"Y' see, th' church give you 'uns a nice, big party an' all, but hit seemed mighty official, hit was anybody an' ever'body, kind of a free-for-all. I said, 'Rose, we ought t' give th' preacher an' 'is missus a little send-off with 'is friends!'" The old man leaned on his cane, grinning triumphantly. "So we're a-doin' it, and glad t' be a-doin' it!"
"Well, now -- "
"Hit's goin' to be in th' museum part of th' house, so we can play th' jukebox, don't you know."
"Why, that's wonderful, it really is, but -- "
"An' me an' Rose took a good bath in th' tub!"
He had seen the time when Uncle Billy and Miss Rose could empty two or three pews around their own....
Miss Rose, in a chenille robe and unlaced saddle oxfords, stood up from her chair and looked him dead in the eye. He instantly wished for the protection of his wife.
"I hope you didn't come expecting to eat a day in advance," she snapped.
"Oh, law," said her mortified husband. "Now, Rose -- "
She turned to Uncle Billy. "I haven't even made the banana pudding yet, so how can we feed him?"
"Oh, I didn't come to eat. I just came to find out -- "
"You march home," said Miss Rose, "and come back tomorrow at the right time."
Uncle Billy put his hands over his eyes, as if to deny the terrible scene taking place in front of him.
"And what time might that be?" shouted Father Tim.
"Six-thirty sharp!" said the old woman, looking considerably vexed.
His wife went pale.
He felt like putting his hands over his own eyes, as Uncle Billy had done.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know how to say no. Uncle Billy is so excited.... They've never given a party before."
"Why in heaven's name didn't they let us know?"
"I think they invited everybody else and forgot to invite us."
"Lord have mercy!" said his overworked wife, conveniently quoting the prayer book.
They had collapsed on the study sofa for the Changing of the Light, having gone nonstop since five-thirty that morning. He had made the lemonade on this occasion, and served it with two slices of bread, each curled hastily around a filling of Puny's homemade pimiento cheese.
Text © 1999 Jan Karon. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Viking.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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